We were really pleased to be asked by Design Manchester to host an exhibition of work by prolific graphic artist Ian ‘Swifty’ Swift as part of this years festival. We caught up with Swifty to find out about the man behind the fonts.
Firstly, what can people expect from your exhibitions and events at Design Manchester?
I’ve got a busy week planned! The Design Manchester 15 festival launches with my event at PLY tonight which I’m pretty chuffed about. I will be doing a talk which Dave Crow is hosting that should be pretty fun. On the walls at PLY I have designed some special panels of appropriated imagery from my archive of works going back to the mid eighties. Then of course the window display at Fred Aldous which went up so easily yesterday, that was probably the easiest hanging I’ve ever done thanks to the fantastic peg boards and hooks.
The window display is all about my archive of works going back to the early 90’s so its record covers, Straight No Chaser magazine and a few bits and pieces from my studio which are more personal pieces like the fake enamel signs etc. For those who know my
work its a trip down memory lane and for those who don’t hopefully an eye opener into my work and methods. I’m also
painting a wall at Kosmonaut which is all typographical, showcasing my Font designs and typo sensibilities. If that isn’t enough I’m doing a talk to the students at Manchester School of Art on Friday and selling my wares at the Print Fair at the weekend! Phew I’m worn out just thinking about it!
What else are you hoping to see at Design Manchester?
I’ll be going to all the other Festival events whilst I’m here. The big one of course Stephen Morris from New Order should be special, I’ve always been a fan! The Great Debate at the Whitworth promises to be interesting and of course I’m looking forward to the Print Festival at the weekend. I’m not around on Sunday but if I was then I would be checking Elaine Constantine’s ‘Northern Soul’ Film!
How has the city changed since you were a student here?
Manchester has changed a lot since my days here as a student in the mid eighties. The Northern Quarter had Afflecks Palace which I would frequent for my Army surplus and Levis 501’s, but apart from that a couple of funky book and record shops not much else. Certainly no bars or clubs back then. Although we did have The Hacienda which was such an iconic club and another more ‘Goth’ and indie club I frequented called ‘Berlin’ was a regular hang out. Although there’s new buildings and more opportunities here now than when I was here what I miss most is the people! London is a great place to live and I’m very settled there but I miss the Northern attitude and still after nearly thirty years in the capital sometimes I still feel like a foreigner!
What are your favourite tools to work with?
I love all graphic design tools but I am old skool so its a Swann Morton scalpel number 3 handle with 10A blades, still mess about with Rotring pens and compass! My favourite marker is a Sharpie. Spray paint wise its Montana 95 for me but for interiors like Kosmonaut I’m doing at the moment my favourite paint is Liquitex – no odour – doesn’t knock you to and goes on nice and chalky. Other than that give me an A3 pad of tracing paper that usually keeps me happy, I buy in bulk.
You create most of your fonts from scratch, what is it about hand rendering type that interests you?
I’m never more happy than when I’m drawing type by hand – Its always been my preferred way to design type other than on the computer. When it comes to that my software of choice is still freehand over Illustrator! I don’t know why it interests me so much, but it has kind of become what I do and what I’m still known for best – funky fonts all the way. I suppose its going the extra mile and creating as much type by hand which gives me a slight edge over your average graphic designer.
Where do you produce most of your work?
All my work is produced in my studio at the end of my garden in West London. Its literally a glorified garden shed! The smallest studio I have ever had but the best. I can work when I want, I don’t have to get on the tube and its all my little haven. No cabin fever for me !
What are your influences and which other designers and artists inspire you?
When I was a student at Manchester Polytechnic of course it was Malcolm Garrett and Peter Saville and Dave Crow who’s now the Dean of the School of Art, he was the year above me and was also a massive influence and guiding light. I was lucky enough to get a job at the Face magazine working with Neville Brody so he was obviously a massive mentor for me. More influences are Reid Miles of Blue Note fame, Saul Bass how could I forget him, Paul Rand, Herb Lubalin, Vaughn Oliver with his 4AD records work. And then more art stuff would be Andy Warhol, Peter Blake, Peter Phillips – I’m a big fan of British ‘Pop art’.
What are you working on at the moment?
The last few weeks I’ve been busy preparing for Design Manchester. Apart from that I have a regular staple diet of record sleeves for ‘Far Out recordings’ a Brazilian label I’ve been designing for now for nearly twenty years must have done nearly a hundred sleeves for them! I have a couple of logos on the go and potentially a nice BBC titles job in the can next week! Next month I will be busy preparing for the new ‘Dingwalls’ our twice yearly reunion club session from my roots in the ‘Jazz dance’ scene that always special as its kind like family for me and of course my missus Janine promotes and tunes it so its always a big event in the calendar. I have a little stall selling my limited edition prints and t-shirts, its usually pretty mad!
Where can people see your work?
From time to time I have shows all over the place but a regular in the summer is the ‘Art Car boot Fair’ in London’s Brick lane, a great event I’ve been doing for 10 years now rubbing shoulders with Peter Blake , Tracy Emin, Gavin Turk to drop a few names!